Energy and Animals: A History of Conflict

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law, Vol. 3, p. 159, 2012

Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-15

47 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2012

Date Written: April 7, 2012


Environmental groups, federal and state agencies, and others who support the development of renewable energy have struggled in recent years with the adverse impacts of such development on animals and animal habitat. Although renewable energy development has the benefit of creating energy without the greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional energy development, it does so through an intensive use of land, including federal public lands, thus competing with animals and their habitat. Conflicts between energy and animals, of course, are nothing new. Congress, agencies, and courts have attempted for decades to balance the public interest in domestic energy development with the public interest in protecting animal species and habitat. This essay considers this history of conflict in an effort to determine whether these past disputes contain lessons for today’s efforts to balance renewable energy development and protection of animals. In doing so, this essay focuses on judicial decisions where courts have had to balance competing statutory and regulatory mandates to both develop domestic energy supplies, including coal, oil, natural gas, and hydropower, and to protect animal species and habitat. These cases illustrate that courts often are forced to strike a balance between energy development and environmental protection in the absence of clear statutory or regulatory guidance, leading courts to understandably defer to agency discretion when it appears that a careful consideration of the competing interests has occurred or when no statutory counterweight favoring animal species is in play. This essay concludes with some observations regarding current disputes over wind and solar development, and considers the benefits and drawbacks of various Congressional and agency approaches to reconciling this conflict.

Keywords: renewable energy, energy, hydropower, coal, oil and gas, endangered species, animals, animal protection

JEL Classification: Q2, Q3, Q4, L7, K11, K32

Suggested Citation

Klass, Alexandra B., Energy and Animals: A History of Conflict (April 7, 2012). San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law, Vol. 3, p. 159, 2012, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-15, Available at SSRN:

Alexandra B. Klass (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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